Chiefs need to find more flow in the midfield

OUT OF ACTION: Charlie Ngatai has again been sidelined by a recurring calf injury.
OUT OF ACTION: Charlie Ngatai has again been sidelined by a recurring calf injury.

The versatility of the Chiefs' backs has got them through but, as yet another midfield combination prepares to take on the Waratahs tomorrow in New Plymouth, the lack of backline continuity cannot be ignored.

Consistency of selection has been impossible with the injuries and medical dramas that have plagued the Chiefs' backs this season, and it has got to have had a bearing on their lack of clinical finishing this season.

Andrew Horrell and Tim Nanai-Williams are the latest pairing selected for the Super Rugby champions in the No 12 and 13 jerseys in the last round-robin match against a non-Kiwi side.

That is completely different to the combo from last week of Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai, and is part of eight changes to this week's starting XV.

Ngatai has again been sidelined by a recurring calf injury, while Aki drops to the bench.

Robbie Fruean got another 50 minutes for Chiefs Development against New Zealand Under-20 on Wednesday night in Mt Maunganui after two full club matches for Te Awamutu Sports on the past two Saturdays, but is still not regarded as ready for the step up to Super Rugby duties.

His 1.90-metre, 104-kilogram frame would certainly be handy for the Chiefs when he is in top nick but he will instead play club rugby again tomorrow while his team-mates prepare for their 4.35pm match at Yarrow Stadium and won't now play at the professional level again until at least June 27 after the test window.

"It is frustrating but we're a bit fortunate that we've got guys who can play multiple positions and on the whole have done a reasonable job," Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said.

The Chiefs are currently the third most prolific try-scoring team this season with 36 tries but the bulk of those have come against South African teams sitting below them on the points table with only nine against sides above them.

Their attack has gone in fits and starts but there have been several matches where their finishing has not been good enough and last weekend was a classic example of not taking advantage of enough scoring chances.

"We had eight or nine clear opportunities to score if we had been clinical," Rennie said.

"You take even half of those opportunities and you get a bonus point out of that, so that's not good enough and needs to be better."

Rennie said "quite possibly" they could link such problems to the lack of consistency of selection and the ability to bed in combinations but whoever was out there had to do the job and there were no excuses.

"People said: oh, you had a week off and came back a bit flat but we don't use that as an excuse either."

Rennie admitted they had been a mixed bag in the finishing area, ranging from outstanding to sub-standard.

"But we're at the stage of the year now where we need to be good and if we can get that right at the weekend, we've got a show."

Of the eight changes that have been made to the starting XV six were personnel switches and two positional moves, while five of the bench are different from the team that crashed heavily to the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend, 45-8.

Co-captain Aaron Cruden will make his first start in seven weeks, having returned to action from a broken thumb via the reserve bench last week.

He bumps Gareth Anscombe to the bench, while Nanai-Williams moves up from fullback, with that position now taken by Tom Marshall.

The forward pack has also undergone change, bulking up to take on the big Waratahs forwards. Newly re-signed Liam Squire comes in at No 8 and co-skipper Liam Messam moves back to blindside flanker with Tanerau Latimer dropping to the reserves.

Matt Symons, who was not in the 23 last week, replaces Mike Fitzgerald at lock. Jamie Mackintosh comes in at loosehead prop in place of Pauliasi Manu, who has been limited in his training this week due to an ankle injury but is on the bench.

Chiefs: Tom Marshall, Dwayne Sweeney, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Pauliasi Manu, Josh Hohneck, Mike Fitzgerald, Tanerau Latimer, Brad Weber, Gareth Anscombe, Bundee Aki.

Waikato Times